Cities in JAPAN
Geography and Landscape
Japan (Japanese: Nippon or Nihon; officially: Nihon koku) is an empire in East Asia. Japan is an archipelago and consists of the four main islands, Hokkaido, the largest island (83,500 km2), Honshu or Hondo (231,000 km2), Shikoku (18,750 km2) and Kyushu (42,000 km), which together Cover 98% of the territory, and almost 4000 small islands.
Okinawa is one of the Ryukyu Islands located 685 kilometers south of Kyushu, and stands out because it completely differs from the rest of the country.
Japan spreads out from the island of Sakhalin off the coast of Siberia to South Korea, and via the Ryukyu Islands continuously to Taiwan. To the west of Japan are the Japanese and East China Seas, and to the east is the Pacific or Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Ocean in Japan is deep between 8,000 to 10,000 meters and the Japan Sea has a depth of about 3000 meters.
The distance from north to south is 2790 kilometers and the total coastline is approximately 29,000 kilometers long. The greatest width of the Japanese islands is only 270 kilometers. The country's total land area is 377,812 km2.
Three quarters of the islands consist of often densely forested mountains and hills, but most of the mountains and ridges do not rise above 2000 meters. An exception is the Hida Mountains or the Japanese Alps (more than twenty peaks above 3000 meters) in South Honshu, which is on average 3000 meters high.
The cornerstone of the Fossa Magna volcano series, a 200km tectonic rift, is Southeast Honshu's 3776m Fuji-san Japan's highest mountain and volcano.
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Other high mountains on Honshu are the Ontake-san (3185 meters), the Norikuradake (3166 meters), the Tateyama (2936 meters) and the Washigadake (2880 meters). Flat land with slopes less than 15°, river deltas and valleys takes up only about 25% of the total area.
Japan has more than 240 volcanoes, among which more than 50 are still active. The three main volcanic zones are in Hokkaido, in North and Central Honshu and in South Kyushu. The Aso on Kyushu is the largest caldera (funnel-shaped crater formed by collapse) in the world with a circumference of 114 kilometers.
Due to the tectonic and volcanic conditions, there are many seaquakes in Japan in addition to countless earthquakes. The coastal plains are then ravaged by enormous tidal waves (tsunamis), which can reach a height of up to 30 meters. Japan rests on an unstable base because it lies at the intersection of the Eurasian plate, the Pacific plate and the Philippine plate. The Pacific plate slides a few centimeters below the continental plate on which Japan lies every year. It will be clear that this inevitably leads to earthquakes. On average, more than 1000 earthquakes occur per year, and major earthquakes occur on average once every five years. Japan is the most seismically active area in the world. On September 1, 1923, Tokyo and its distant environs were devastated by the massive earthquake of 8.2 on the Richter scale, Great Kanto earthquake, killing more than 100,000 people. A major earthquake hit Kobe on January 17, 1995 with a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale. About 5,000 people died and the earthquake is referred to as the great Hanshin earthquake.
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The last major quake was in 2011. This earthquake was followed by a devastating Tsunami.
Japan is particularly rich in mineral resources due to geothermal activities, including sulfur and radium. The so-called ría-coasts are strongly divided by tectonic fault zones and valleys. Low plains are generally small and almost non-existent. They often lie along the coast as alluvial river plains; some occur in the interior.
The short and often very rough rivers transport enormous amounts of rock to the estuaries. Due to the great decline, they are hardly navigable by large shipping, but they are very important for irrigation and the electricity production. The riverbeds lie in the plain mostly above the surrounding land and are kept in place by natural or artificial dikes. The longest river is the Shinano of approximately 375 kilometers. Other major rivers are the Ishikari (365 km) and the Tone (320 km).
Of the few lakes, the largest (675 km2) and best known is Lake Biwa near Kyoto. The Muasu lake is special, where you can see to a depth of 40 meters.
Climate and Weather
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Due to the length of the country and the mountain ranges, the climate differs from region to region during the four seasons, which are clearly distinguishable, just like in Europe. For example, in Ura-Nihon, west of the mountains, there is a lot of snow in winter, but in August it is often tropically warm.
The climate in Japan is determined by the monsoon circulation of East Asia and the maritime location, which means that there are no extreme temperatures. The summer monsoon provides the most rainfall, except on the island of Honshu, where most rainfall occurs in winter. Most rain falls from mid-June to mid-July ("baiu" or plum rain) and in September ("shurin"). The rainiest regions are in the south of Kyushu along the Pacific Ocean. On average, the whole of Japan falls on average 1778 mm per year. In most of the country, an average of at least 1016 mm falls per year. The driest place is East Hokkaido with about 940 mm per year; the wettest place is the Kii peninsula in Central Honshu with more than 4000 mm per year. During the tropical cyclones, the typhoons, mainly occur in September and October when a lot of rain can fall in a short time.
In winter there are large temperature differences in the south and north and in the east and west. In the north, the temperature drops below freezing in winter and in Hokkaido even to –7 ° C, with the snow several meters thick. Along the east coast, the temperature is moderated by the Kuro-Shio, a warm Gulf Stream. On the southern island of Kyushu, the temperature does not drop below + 7°C in January. On Okinawa it remains an average of 16°C in winter.
Depending on the latitude, it is generally quite warm in the summer.
Hokkaido: generally cool and rainy with short warm summers and long cold winters. Year-round rainfall, but drier than in the rest of Japan.
Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu: these islands have a temperate, rainy climate, with precipitation especially in summer and autumn on the east coast and in summer and winter on the west coast. Temperatures vary greatly according to latitude: from cold to mild in winter and from warm to very warm in summer.
Okinawa: has a subtropical climate with very hot humid summers and fairly warm winters. Lots of rain all year round, but especially in summer.
Plants ans Animals
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Japan belongs to the temperate subtropical Eurasian flora region, which means that there are many species that can also be seen in Europe. Between 200 and 500 species were introduced from Europe and the United States in the Meiji period (1868-1912).
Japan has a very rich plant world with more than 3000 species. Trees and shrubs dominate the picture, flowers much less. At present, two thirds of Japan is still covered by extensive forest areas. The many blossoms (including cherry blossoms) of trees and shrubs in the flowering periods are absolutely beautiful. There is a number of striking trees on all major islands. The Japanese cedar is the best known and can reach a length of 40 to 70 meters and also the ginkgo, a coniferous tree species with leaves (!), Camellia and bamboo (about 100 species). Maples are also quite common. Typically Japanese trees are sugi, kiri, hinoki and urushi.
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Azaleas, irises and chrysanthemums are often used in garden and park landscaping, where the Japanese are masters. The lotus ponds are striking, but the plant is also grown as a food. The bonzai trees are world famous, which in cultivated form are an imitation of the trees in the mountains formed by the harsh climate.
Kyushu is home to subtropical evergreen forests that mainly consist of oak, laurel species such as camphor, palms, pepper trees and tulip trees. Furthermore, many ferns, bamboo and orchids growing on trees. Mangrove swamps are found in the coastal regions of the southern Ryuku Islands. Yaku-shima Island, located between Kyushu and the Ryuku Islands, has cedars dating back more than 2,000 years.
The island of Honshu also has subtropical Japanese deciduous and coniferous forests that do lose their foliage. These forests are among the richest and most abundant vegetation types in the world. Various types of oak, Japanese cedar, spruce, birch, beech, hornbeam and alder grow here. Furthermore, many types of lianas, shrubs and a dense, almost impenetrable herb layer.
The forests of Hokkaido consist for the most part of coniferous trees, especially in the northern part. Furthermore, ash and birch.
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The Japanese animal world has many Asian elements, including the Japanese macaque, the monkey species with the most northerly distribution, the flying dog, the collar bear and the sika deer. Brown bears are found on Hokkaido.
Furthermore brown bears and a number of other predators such as foxes, weasels, stone martens, ermines, minks, badgers and the "tanuki" or raccoon dog. Various deer species and wild boars live in the middle of the country.
Cattle are hardly visible, they are kept in sheds because there is hardly any grassland. The Japanese wolf is extinct and the Iriomote cat, the Tsushima cat, the Blakiston fishing owl and the Japanese river otter are highly endangered.
The bird world is rich in species, about 450 have been counted in Japan. Cranes are found on Hokkaido. Flocks of little white herons live on the green rice fields. Seabirds include gulls, terns and auks; water birds including storks, ducks, geese and herons; birds of prey including eagles and hawks. The cormorant is trained to help with fishing. The "toki" or Japanese crested ibis used to be common, but is now almost extinct.
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Reptiles and amphibians are also well represented; especially among the lizards you will find many Asian elements (geckos and skinks). The most famous amphibian is the Japanese giant salamander (Megalobatrachus japonicus), the largest amphibian in the world at almost 1.50 m in length, living mainly in Kyushu and Western Honshu. Japan has two types of poisonous snakes, including the "habu" on Okinawa. The harmless Japanese rat snake can reach a length of 1.50 meters. Many turtles live in the many ponds.
Among the freshwater fish, the cyprinids play an important role, along with salmon, trout and crayfish. In the many ponds koi are found that are bred with special color patterns.
The coastal fauna includes whales, seals and walruses. Kyushu is known for its sea turtles. Many types of fish that are used in Japanese cuisine live in the sea: especially tuna and mackerel, mullet, sardine, sea bream, herring, mullet and cod. Furthermore, crabs, shrimps, oysters and mussels.
The Japanese beetle is the most notorious of all common insects because it is able to eat an entire tree bare in fifteen minutes.
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Japan has 28 national parks (kokuritsu koen) and 55 semi-national parks (kokutei koen). Most of these parks are located in the Tohoku regions of North Honshu and Hokkaido, where the population density is not so high. Nevertheless, there are also national parks in the immediate vicinity of the capital Tokyo. The largest national park is Seto Naikai Kokuritsu-koen.
The oldest inhabitants
The origin of Japan's first inhabitants is uncertain. What is certain is that there was a wave of emigration via Siberia and Korea when Japan was still tied to the mainland of East Asia. But it is also possible that seafaring immigrants from Polynesia have landed on Kyushu and Okinawa. It is likely that the Japanese population originated from a mix of all kinds of cultures.
Remains of the Paleolithic Gongenyama cultures (60,000-50,000 BC) have been found after the Second World War. Other evidence of civilization is pottery from the Neolithic period around 10,000 BC. This Jomon period was so named after the rope motifs in the clay. The Jomon people were hunters and gatherers. The Jomon period is divided into five stages on the basis of the shapes and further decorations and lasted from 10,000 to about 250 BC.
After this period the gradual transition to the bronze and iron culture of the Yayoi period followed. Red-colored potsherds have been found in the Yayoi district of the current capital Tokyo, hence the name of this period. There is an idea that there have been connections with Korea and the main achievements have been the cultivation of rice, introduced from China through Korea, and the use of bronze and iron utensils. The Yayoi period lasted from 300 BC. to 300 AD.
From the Yayoi culture emerged the Kofun culture (burial mound culture) which has resulted in thousands of enormous burial mounds in Central and Western Japan. The custom of using these large funerary monuments came to an end with the advent of Buddhism, which advocated cremation.
During this time, more and more settlements started to work together to defend their land and eventually the Yamato clan managed to make a kind of alliance that all tribes could agree with around 300. Claimed to be descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu, the Yamato leaders introduced the title tenno, emperor, around the 5th century. As a result, Japan could henceforth be regarded as one nation stretching from Kyushu in the south to Honshu in the north.
Yamato already had special contacts with Korea since the 4th century. Between the two southern kingdoms, Paekche and Silla, was a small area, called Mimana in Japanese annals, where a kind of governor of Yamato existed and where Japanese troops were stationed. The area was a kind of base of mainland culture to Yamato and in the mid-6th century Buddhism was introduced and further developed in Japan via China and the Korean kingdom of Paekche.
First Imperial Dynasties
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In 562 the Japanese were expelled from Mimana by Silla, the neighboring people of Paekche, and a decline set in. This decline of Yamato was halted by Prince Shotoku who made some kind of constitution and set guidelines for a centrally administered state with only one ruler. He also made Buddhism the state religion. All kinds of other elements of Chinese culture were also introduced to Japan, such as medicine, music, astronomy, visual arts and, most importantly, Chinese writing. Initially, all these things reached Japan through Korea, but eventually more and more direct contacts began to be sought with the so-called Middle Kingdom and in 607 an official envoy was first sent to the Chinese court.
The takeover of Chinese cultural heritage reached its peak during the so-called Taika Reform between 645 and 702, in which the administrative system of the Chinese T'ang Dynasty (618-907) was taken over in its entirety. As a result, all private ownership of land and serfs was abolished by declaring all land the property of the emperor and all the people his subjects. As a result, the emperor, as a descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, was not only the high priest of the country but also became worldly ruler, just as was the case in China. The clans (uji) were no longer the main social and political units and the clan chiefs were appointed officials of the emperor.
However, this administrative system of the gigantic T'ang Empire did not fit the relatively very small Yamato Empire at all and the aristocratic descendants of the former clan chiefs did not intend to relinquish their power and competencies and the civil service remained and therefore in fact governed by the nobility. Confucianism became increasingly widespread during the period of the Taika Reformation, although it was not until centuries later that it would determine Japanese views on ethics.
Thanks to family feuds and seizures of power, government and laws were constantly changing. For example, the tradition of each new ruler changing the place of the capital came to an end and a permanent capital was chosen for the first time. In 710 it became Nara, which remained the capital until 794. During the Nara period, Buddhism was highly promoted, especially under Emperor Shomu. This period became the first glorious period in the history of Japan, especially in the field of construction and sculpture, and began to take its own direction in Japanese culture.
Towards the end of the 8th century, the Buddhist clergy became so involved in politics that Emperor Kammu decided to move the capital from Nara to Heian-kyo (now: Kyoto). All this to stop the growing influence of the cleric. Like Nara, Heian was modeled after the Tang Dynasty capital of China Chang-an (now: Xi'an). Heian-kyo would remain the capital of Japan until 1868. The Heian period was characterized by flourishing arts and important developments in religious thought. The Chinese immigrants brought all kinds of ideas and customs that were adapted to the Japanese situation. Rivalry between traditional Japanese Shinto and Buddhism was prevented by depicting Shinto gods as Buddhas. Religion and state were disconnected and two new sects were brought from China by Japanese monks, Tendai and Shingon, who became the pillars on which Japanese Buddhism was built. During the Heian period, there was also more emphasis on leisure and science development and less on government.
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The noble Fujiwara family took advantage of this by taking important positions at court between the 9th and mid-12th centuries through all kinds of devious maneuvers. They further derived their power from the use of the donations of sho-en, land property, which the emperor gave to Buddhist monasteries, princes and high officials as a reward for merit. These sho-en remained in the name of the emperor, but were tax-free and under the jurisdiction of the provincial governors. They steadily increased in number over time, and by the 11th century half of the country was made up of sho-en; moreover, certain large landowners assumed the right to declare their areas sho-en themselves.
The Fujiwara became stronger and more powerful, but the landed gentry also developed more and more because the Fujiwara were mainly concerned with politics in the capital. Around 1150, the noble Taira family briefly took over power from the Fujiwara, but soon had to relinquish it to the Minamoto family (also known as Genji) after the Battle of Dannoura in 1185. In 1192, Yoritimo captured Minamoto all Honshu and for the first time in the history of Japan the country was ruled by one family. Yoritimo was given the honorary title Sei-i-tai-shogun (abbreviated: shogun) from the emperor and this title became hereditary for life to the military leaders of Japan. Until 1868, the shoguns were the de facto rulers and the emperors were heads of state in name only. It was therefore typical that the emperor continued to live in Tokyo and that Yoritomo made Kamakura the capital. Yoritomo ruled in a feudal way and did not even shy away from removing his own relatives who got in his way. In 1199 Yoritomo fell from his horse and died, after which in 1205 the powerful Hojo family, to which his wife belonged, took over.
In 1219 the last shogun of the Minamoto family died. Since then, imperial princes and members of the Fujiwara family were appointed shogun, but the Hojo continued to exercise the regency. During this period, Buddhism became increasingly popular, especially with the introduction of Zen Buddhism among the samurai. In 1259, the Mongols led by Kublai Khan reached Japan and sent envoys to induce the Japanese to surrender. However, these emissaries were expelled from Japan and in response the Mongols sent an invading force to Japan in 1274 and 1281.
However, Tokimune of the Hojo family was able to repel both raids and was helped both times by typhoons that destroyed the Mongol fleet. These typhoons were called kamikazes (kamikaze = divine wind). However, the treasury was empty and the power of the samurai class was increasing. Emperor Go-Daigo tried to take advantage of this situation and led an unsuccessful uprising against the government and was exiled to the Oki Islands. A few years later he tried again and was now more successful; in 1319 he ascended the throne. Emperor Go-Daogo, however, made the mistake of rewarding the aristocracy and priests and not his soldiers. This led to an uprising organized by the defected Hojo General Ashikaga Takauji who defeated Go-Daigo at the Battle of Kyoto. He appointed a new emperor, proclaimed himself a shogun, and settled in Muromachi near Kyoto.
A period of continuous wars followed in the 14th century, particularly between the two imperial courts in Central Japan who fought each other fiercely at the time. The Southern Dynasty was led by the runaway Go-Daigo and his successors; the Northern Dynasty consisted of a member of the imperial family enthroned by Ashikaga and his successors. This conflict gave the feudal rulers (called daimyo) ample opportunity in the rest of Japan to expand their power and territory. However, it was not all doom and gloom that struck the clock in the Ashikaga peridu. Buddhism had already been renewed and more popular in the Kamakura period, and Zen Buddhism also appealed to the imagination. But architecture, painting, landscaping and flower arrangement (ikebana) also flourished.
Foreign trade flourished as several daimyô established important trade relations with China and Southeast Asia. In 1467 the Onin War broke out which developed into an all-out civil war and accelerated the crumbling of Ashikaga's power. This period lasted until 1576 and has become known as Sengoku-jigai. Politically, Japan at the time was without central authorities. That would change again in the Momoyama period. In 1568, Oda Nobunaga, through his military insight, ensured that the road to peace and unity was set in Central Japan. He also conquered many central provinces and broke the great power of the Buddhist monasteries. Before he could finish his job, however, he was betrayed by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide. As ruler, Oda was succeeded in 1582 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, remarkably likely a farmer's son. He succeeded in bringing the entire country back under government in 1590. He then became overconfident and attacked Korea and China with a great expeditionary force. However, attempts in 1593 and 1598 failed, the last time because Toyotomi died.
First contacts with Western countries
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In 1543, the first contact with the West was made with Portuguese traders and a few years later by missionaries, initially Portuguese and later Spaniards. In 1549 the Jesuit Francis Xavier arrived in Kagoshima and local monarchs were quickly converted in exchange for trade benefits and weapons. Oda did see advantages of Christianity as a counterpart to Buddhism. Toyotomi, on the other hand, feared that the new religion would undermine his leadership. Ordinances were issued against Christianity, and in 1597 26 priests and Japanese converts were crucified.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi's army was defeated at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by his former ally Tokugawa Teyasu. Tokugawa resided in Edo, present-day Tokyo, and assumed the title of shogun. The emperors continued to live their shadow existence in Kyoto. During the Tokugawa or Edo period, persecution and outlawing of Christians continued, reaching a low point in 1637 with the bloody crackdown on the Christian-led Shimabara rebellion. This brought an abrupt end to the Christian period, although Christianity continued underground and was officially permitted again at the end of the 19th century.
The Tokugawa family organized a kind of centralized police state, in which, for example, all daimyo, the shogun's feudal men, stay in the capital for a certain period of time and an equal period on their fiefs. The Tokugawa family controlled all major cities, major ports and all mines; the rest of the country was under the control of free autonomous daimyo. Their wives and children, however, remained constantly in Edo as a kind of collateral. The Japanese were also forbidden to travel abroad. These measures forced the daimyo to remain loyal to the Tokugawas.
The population of Japan at that time was strictly divided into four classes. The samurai or warriors were at the top of the ladder. The samurai included the shogun, the daimyo and all military personnel. Famous artists, scholars and doctors also belonged to this group. Then came the farmers, then the craftsmen, and finally the merchants. The pariah groups Eta and Hinin were excluded from everything. All classes in society were subject to strict rules that governed their lives down to the smallest detail. Social mobility between classes was also practically impossible.
Main causes of these measures were the fear of Westerners' interference in internal affairs and of colonization. Anti-Christianity and threats to the Japanese economy also played an important role. Under the Tokugawa regime, Japan almost completely isolated itself from the outside world (sakoku). Only the Dutch on the island of Decima, the Chinese and the Koreans could maintain contact with Japanese traders under strict supervision. The positive thing about the Tokugawa period was that it took place in relative calm. Remarkable was the transition from a rice economy to a money economy, as a result of which the position of the merchants became increasingly important and powerful. This in turn was at the expense of the samurai class, which was increasingly declining and dependent on the merchants. As a result, culture, especially art and literature, became more and more bourgeois and the study of the exact sciences became increasingly important.
The official doctrine of the state in this period was neo-Confucianism, borrowed from China, which was perfectly in keeping with the feudal relations prevailing in Japan at that time. Around 1800, the Tokugawa government suffered from corruption and development stagnation. Famines and poverty among the peasants and the samurai caused uprisings, which, however, caused little damage due to the rigorous police system. A far greater danger was the growing power of the daimyô in western and southern Japan. They had always been opposed to the shogun system. Intellectuals too hoped for a return to the emperor's power.
In addition, countries such as Russia, the United States and Great Britain became more and more imposing and fears grew that Japan's independence would be brought to an end from outside.
Diplomatic and economic opening of Japan
In 1853, the American Commodore Matthew Perry, on behalf of the President of the United States, asked the Japanese government to restore trade relations. Other countries also called for the opening of trade ports and the relaxation of trade barriers. The Shogun government, signed a provisional treaty on March 31, 1854, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate and soon further diplomatic negotiations were to be launched. The first American consul general arrived in 1856 and treaties were also concluded with other countries. However, there were many opponents to the further opening up of the country and they also targeted the foreigners themselves.
In particular, the fact that treaties had been concluded without the approval of the emperor caused bad blood. Nevertheless, in 1865 the emperor ratified the treaties with the foreigners. In 1866, two powerful daimyo areas (Satsuma and Choshu) from Western Japan united and finally on November 9, 1867, the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, resigned and Emperor Meiji took over. On January 4, 1868, the shogunate was abolished by imperial decree. This restoration of imperial power is also referred to as the Meiji Restoration because of the many innovations introduced during this period. For example, in 1869 the imperial capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo, which from then on was called Tokyo, the "Eastern Capital."
In 1871 the feudal daimyo fiefs were abolished and Japan was divided into prefectures, abolishing feudality and granting equal rights to all estates. Furthermore, a new monetary system was introduced, state post offices were established and the first railway, Tokyo-Yokohama, was opened.
In 1872 a new education system was introduced (compulsory education) and in 1873 general conscription was introduced. A series of uprisings of the samurai, which continued to lose power, ended with the Saigo uprising in 1877 in which the samurai were finally defeated and lost all power.
In 1882, the Bank of Japan was established and the first modern political parties emerged between 1882 and 1885. In 1885 a modern cabinet was formed and in 1888 a Secret State Council was established, after which a constitution was adopted in 1889. As a result, parliament met for the first time in 1890.
Foreign policy in the Meiji period was aimed at abolishing the unfavorable treaties with Western countries, better defending against possible enemies and acquiring colonies to secure raw materials for the emerging industry. Japan claimed the Russian Sakhalin, but after a treaty in 1875 had to settle for the Kuril archipelago.
Relations with Korea were more important. In 1876 Japan forced Korea to open some ports to Japanese trade and establish diplomatic relations. In 1879 the Ryukyu (Okinawan) kingdom on Taiwan was annexed by Japan. The interference with Korea brought Japan into conflict with China, which had special relations with Korea. In 1885, however, a treaty was made in which they established the independence of Korea and promised each other never to send troops to Korea without letting the other know. These agreements were not adhered to and that was the cause of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, which was won by Japan.
On April 17, 1895, the Shimonoseki peace treaty was signed and Japan was given Taiwan, among other things, and China had to pay war compensation to Japan. Korea was declared an independent territory again. This demand was not met by the intervention of Germany, France and Russia. Great Britain, meanwhile, was concerned about Russia's activities in the east and, as a result, increasingly approached Japan. Between 1894 and 1899, a number of treaties were signed, leading to the legal sovereignty of Japan and in 1911 it gained full autonomy.
In 1900 Japan gained prestige with the Western powers by suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in China. As a result, Manchuria was occupied by Russia. In 1902, an alliance was made between Japan and Great Britain and after that negotiations were started to curb Russia's drive for expansion in the east. However, the negotiations were unsuccessful and were broken off again on February 6, 1904. Morally supported by Britain, Japan declared war on Russia on February 11, 1904 and attacked the Russians in Manchuria and Korea. At the Battle of Tsu-shima, the Russian Baltic fleet was devastated.
For the first time, Japan got the idea that it was on an equal footing with the Western powers. The Portsmouth peace treaty on September 5, 1905 forced Russia to make many military, political and economic concessions. Another consequence of the war was that Korea became a protectorate of Japan and was completely annexed by Japan on August 22, 1910. On July 30, 1912, Emperor Meiji died and was succeeded by his son Yoshihito, whose first reign would become known as the Taisho period.
First and Second World War
When World War I broke out in 1914, Japan sided with the Allies, but otherwise hardly participated in the hostilities. In Asia, Zingdao Fortress and the German colony in Giaozhou were conquered as well as some German possessions in the Pacific, including the Mariana Islands and the Marshall Islands. And while the Allies engaged in the war, Japan took the opportunity to build a rock-solid economic position in Asia through shipping and trade. In 1915, the "21 requirements" were imposed on China, intended to achieve a dominant position in China. With the exception of a few insignificant areas where Japan could occupy a special position, including Shandong and Eastern Inner Mongolia, China did not elaborate on this. Under the Versailles Peace Treaty, Japan acquired the former German island possessions north of the equator as mandated territories; from Giaozhou it withdrew three years later. Japan's expansion of territory at the expense of Russia would eventually turn against Japan again. For example, after World War I, the Washington Fleet Conference (1921/1922) was held, which stipulated that the size of the fleets of the United States, Great Britain, and Japan should be based on a ratio of 5-5-3. Also, the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance was dissolved and the Japanese were forced to withdraw from Shandong in China and Siberia. Domestic social unrest led the government to chart a somewhat more democratic and liberal course. In 1918, Kei Satoshi Hara became Japan's first non-noble politician to become Prime Minister, voting rights were expanded, and Japan joined the League of Nations in 1920. The party system was also strengthened, allowing socialism to develop and in 1928 Marxist parties managed to win eight seats in the House of Representatives. In the same year, however, members of the communist party were also arrested and the influence of socialism diminished. Influenced by "zaibatsu", a financial clique of industrialists and bankers, a moderate and peaceful foreign policy was followed. Meanwhile, in 1926, Emperor Hirohito had ascended the throne and the Showa period began. He had traveled extensively throughout Europe, became acquainted with the European nobility and a follower of the British lifestyle.
The unhealthy economic structure led to a major banking crisis and many bankruptcies in 1927. The worldwide crisis in 1929 exacerbated the crisis in Japan and nationalistic feelings re-emerged. In addition, many countries erected so-called "tariff walls" which forced Japan to focus again on colonial expansion. Additionally, in 1924, the United States passed the Immigration Act prohibiting the immigration of Japanese to the United States. This gave military elements more and more influence on politics. In September 1931, an incident in Manchuria was staged by the military with the aim of making this rich area of resources completely dependent on Japan. On March 9, 1932, the unrecognized new state of Manchukuo was proclaimed, and in 1933 Jehol province was occupied and Japan exited the League of Nations. On May 15, 1932, a military uprising broke out in Tokyo and Prime Minister Takeshi Inukai was assassinated. The perpetrators were hardly punished, which was indicative of the weak position of politics at that time. In February 1936, under the leadership of junior officers and cadets of the army, another uprising took place in Tokyo. They held full control of the capital for three days and the Minister of Finance Takahashi, the former Prime Minister Saito and the head of military education General Watanabe were murdered.
On November 25, 1936, the Anti-Comintern Pact was concluded. The Comintern was founded in March 1919 with the aim of spreading the revolution in other countries. It was in theory an independent organization, but in reality it was heavily influenced by the Russian party. Meanwhile, Japanese policy on the mainland had become increasingly aggressive. After a new expansion of the Japanese sphere of influence in Northern China, the Sino-Japanese Incident broke out in July 1937, which was in fact an informal war between Japan and the nationalist government of Tjiang K'ai-shek. This incident, which led to a battle that was not decided until 1945, became the cause of new conflicts, which left Japan increasingly alone in the Pacific region, and especially relations with Great Britain and the United States worsened. For example, the US-Japanese Trade Treaty was cancelled on January 27, 1940, and on September 27 of the same year, the Three-Power Pact between Japan, Germany, and Italy was concluded. On October 12, 1940, the Taisei-yokusan-kai, the Organization in Support of the Imperial Government, was established. This organization replaced the political parties that had already been dissolved in August.
The Trinity Pact clearly demonstrated the hostility to Great Britain and the United States. Tensions rose in 1940 when the Americans stopped exports of fuel, iron and steel to Japan, followed by a complete export stop in 1941. For the Japanese military, the survival of Japan was now in jeopardy and the Todjo cabinet decided to wage war. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese raided the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, without a declaration of war. After a few days they attacked the Philippines and sank two English battleships.
Within six months, Japan had driven Western powers from all over East and Southeast Asia and occupied key strategic bases in the Pacific. In 1942, Japan controlled an area that reached 6400 kilometers south of Sakhalin and 7600 kilometers east of Burma. The turning point of the war came at the Battle of Midway, June 3-6, 1942. Earlier, the plan to conquer Australia had failed due to a defeat in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese were forced on the defensive by these defeats, and the Allies slowly approached the Japanese islands in mid-1943. In addition, the Japanese merchant fleet was largely destroyed, depriving them of much-needed raw materials. The constant bombing of Japan also made it more and more difficult for Japan. On June 21, 1945, Okinawa was conquered and the Japanese paid a very high price: approximately 260,000 Japanese civilians and soldiers were killed. The bombing of Japan was intensified. At the same time, an English offensive liberated Burma. During a massive air offensive (May-August 1945) the Japanese military was completely destroyed and many cities were destroyed.
In July 1945, the Potsdam Conference took place, demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan. The Japanese refused, after which the Allies dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing 80,000. The atomic bomb on Nagasaki was the final blow for Japan. On August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria.
The government of Japan now decided to capitulate on the condition that the emperor be maintained as sovereign. The Allies, however, declared that after the war ended, the form of government would be determined only by the will of the people, and the Emperor himself intervened by pressing for complete surrender (14 August 1945). The Koiso-Yonai cabinet, which replaced the Todjo cabinet in July 1944, resigned. Under the responsibility of a business cabinet, the capitulation was signed on September 2 in Tokyo Bay aboard the American battleship Missouri. Immediately after that, the eviction of all occupied territories and the occupation of Japan by American and Australian troops began. Japan remained occupied under the command of US General Douglas MacArthur until April 1952, after which it regained independence under a democratic constitution at the Treaty of San Francisco. But it wasn't until 1972 that Okinawa Island was returned to Japan.
Reforms and Economic Recovery
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The United States allowed the government of the greatly reduced empire to be exercised by a Japanese government whose authority was to be subordinate to SCAP (Supreme Command[er] of the Allied Powers). There was also a strong emphasis on bringing war criminals to justice and removing militaristic and ultra-nationalist elements from the government.
Many other reforms were implemented under successive governments: the army was "permanently" abolished, education democratized, political and press freedom restored, and women's suffrage was introduced. On May 3, 1947, a new constitution went into effect and the first post-war elections on April 10, 1946 yielded profit for S. Yoshida who formed a liberal-progressive coalition cabinet. In the new constitution, all political power was removed from the emperor, leaving only a ceremonial function.
In the spring of 1954, the Security Pact with the United States was followed by a Pact for Mutual Assistance. The economic recovery program consisted of loans, limited exports, capital investment and spending cuts. In December 1954, the Yoshida cabinet was succeeded by a cabinet with Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama. This cabinet wanted to re-establish trade relations with the Soviet Union and China and reduce dependence on the United States.
In December 1956, Japan joined the United Nations. Hatoyama's successor, T. Ishibashi, was replaced by conservative and pro-American N. Kishi in February. On January 19, 1960, the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan was renewed, resulting in a series of anti-government and anti-American demonstrations. The ultra-left Blanquist student organization in particular played an important role in this. Kishi was forced to resign due to this issue and was succeeded by the Ikeda cabinet in July 1960.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were further proof of Japan's post-war recognition by the world community. In the same year the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) of Eisaku Sato won the elections as well as in December 1969. During this period of government there were again many problems with student organizations that fought for fundamental university reforms. Also, in 1972, the Ryukyu Islands were returned to Japan by the United States. One of the conditions, however, was that an American base would remain on the islands. This also resulted in many protests. Eisaku Sato was succeeded in 1972 by Kakoeei Tanaka under whose rule the People's Republic of China was recognized and relations with Taiwan were severed.
In these years, the terror organization the Red Army became world known. In 1974 an embassy in The Hague was occupied and in 1972 an embassy in Tel Aviv. After a few scandals, Tanaka resigned in 1974 and was succeeded by Takeo Miki who also became involved in a bribery scandal (Lockheed affair) and partly because of this suffered a serious election defeat in December 1976 and resigned as leader of the LDP. Deputy Prime Minister Fukuda succeeded him as Prime Minister.
In 1978 Japan and China signed a peace and friendship treaty, but the unbridled export of products worsened the relationship between Japan and the Western countries. Fukuda was succeeded in November 1978 by his rival within the LDP, Ohira. Ohira remained prime minister even after the general elections in October 1979 that went badly for the LDP. However, this reign was not to last long, as the Ohira cabinet fell in May 1980 after a motion of no confidence. Shortly before the successful elections for the LDP, Ohira passed away and was succeeded by Z. Suzuki. Suzuki resigned in October 1982 due to the bad economic situation in Japan and divisions within the LDP.
Successor Yasuhiro Nakasone, also of the LDP, forged closer relations with the United States and increased Japanese involvement in international affairs. Accused of corruption, Tanaka refused to leave the LDP, forcing Nakasone to call early elections in December 1983. The LDP lost the election but Nakasone remained prime minister with a coalition government. This period of government was characterized by severe cuts in public spending, a reorganization of the government apparatus and the privatization of public companies such as the national railways. The July 1986 elections were largely won by Nakasone's LDP, but a split in that party forced Nakasone to resign from his position as party chairman and prime minister. It was the notorious troublemaker Tanaka who founded his own faction and took 113 members with him. Nakasone was succeeded by Noboru Takashita in November 1987.
Political instability and economic crisis
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In turn, Takashita was forced to resign in June 1989 following the Recruit stock scandal. After the disastrous upper house elections for the LDP in July 1989, Toshiki Kaifu was nevertheless appointed prime minister. Former prime ministers Nakasone and Takashita involved in the scandal were re-elected to parliament, but Kaifu, involved in the scandal, was banned from his cabine . His position within the LDP was weakened by this principled position and he did not see a second term of office.
The new prime minister became Kiichi Miyazawa at the end of 1991, who accepted as many as nine "infected" ministers into his government. He piloted the "Law on Peacekeeping Operations" through parliament, which meant Japan was returning to United Nations peacekeeping operations, the first in Cambodia. The promised reform of the electoral system fell through, prompting early elections in July 1993 which did not turn out well for the LDP. The absolute majority was lost and for the first time in 38 years, the LDP did not participate in the government.
The new Prime Minister of Japan became Morihiro Hosokawa, the leader of the newly formed New Party of Japan. Less than a year later, Hosokawa was able to leave again due to dubious past business dealings and Hata 's minority government lasted only two months. In June 1994 the LDP fell apart into two factions. In January 1995, Japan was shaken by an earthquake in Kobe that killed more than 5,300 people and caused tens of billions of damage. Another disaster was the attack on the Tokyo subway several months later. The deadly nerve agent sarin killed 12 and injured 5,500.
Prime Minister Murayama resigned in early 1996 and was succeeded by LDP Chairman Hashimoto. He was re-elected as Prime Minister in November after the formation of a LDP minority government. In September 1997, Japan entered into an agreement with the United States that allowed it to engage in military activities outside its own territory for the first time since World War II. In 1997 also great commotion again due to illegal payments by directors of large companies to blackmailers. The finance minister of the Hashimoto cabinet was also forced to resign after taking bribes.
In July 1998, Hashimoto stepped down as Prime Minister following a defeat in the House of Lords elections and was succeeded by Keizo Obuchi, who recruited former Prime Minister Miyazawa as Finance Minister.
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On April 2, 2000, Obuci suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and on April 5, Yoshi Mori of the LDP was elected prime minister by parliament, after having already been elected chairman of the party. Obuchi's policy of increasing government spending and stimulating foreign investment would be continued by Mori.
Junichiro Koizumi took office as Prime Minister of Japan on April 24, 2001. The government's highest priority was to restore economic growth. The government's foreign policy, particularly the dispatch of troops to Iraq, has generated much controversy, but has become more widely accepted along the way. However, Koizumi was initially unable to garner sufficient support for his internal economic reform program either within his party. This became painfully clear when, in the summer of 2005, his proposal for the privatization of the postal service (a very drastic multi-billion dollar operation) narrowly passed through the House of Commons, and was subsequently voted down in the House of Lords. Prime Minister Koizumi subsequently decided to dissolve the House of Commons and to call new elections for September 2005. The elections of September 11, 2005 resulted in a surprising victory for the Prime Minister personally. The public voted for the Japanese MP because of a great need for change (stagnant economy, unemployment, aging). The Japanese MP has managed to portray himself in the media as a great reformer and the other parties as conservative even though the LDP has been in power for 50 years (with short interruption). The opposition, the Democratic Party, also wanted the privatization of the postal services (but different), better ties with Asian countries and increased taxes to get rid of the huge government deficit (160% of GDP). The privatization of the postal services has not been hindered politically. However, public expectations have risen to great heights due to the elections. MP Koizumi does not have a clear reform program to tackle the many problems in Japanese society such as an aging population, rising health care costs, etc. Koizumi and the LDP (Koizumi will step down in September 2006) will have difficulty living up to the expectations that have arisen. His successor, Abe, will lead the LDP through the local elections in April and the elections for half of the upper house next summer.
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The new MP Abe has a conservative security agenda. For him, amendment of the Constitution (the "pacifist" clause), reforming security structures and establishing a defense against missile attacks play the most important role. However, he has no program for the stagnating economy, social security, the shaky pension sector, the aging population and the soaring health care costs.
The opposition is weak. After a promising start, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) suffered a major defeat (from 177 to 122 seats) in the elections in September 2005. The DPJ leader resigned after a series of political errors in judgment. The leader Ozawa comes from the LDP and therefore belongs to the old political guard in Japan.
In September 2007, Abe resigns and is succeeded by Yasuo Fukuda. In November, a whaling fleet departs for a so-called scientific mission for six months, leading to international protests. In June 2008, Fukuda gets a vote of no confidence from the House of Lords, which is dominated by the opposition, but that is overruled by a vote of confidence by parliament.
The Japanese parliament appointed Taro Aso prime minister in September 2008, as expected. He succeeds Yasuo Fukuda, who unexpectedly resigned early this month as prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The party chose former foreign minister Aso (68) as its new leader on Monday. Japan will also have to deal with the global economic crisis at the end of 2008 and early 2009. Shoichi Nakagawa, the finance minister resigns due to drunkenness during a G7 meeting. In July 2009, Aso holds elections after a defeat in local elections.
On August 30, 2009, Japanese voters will go to the polls. The result represents a political landslide. The Democratic Party of Japan led by Yukio Hatoyama wins 308 of the 480 seats. This means the end of more than fifty years of participation in the government of the LPD. Aso takes the consequences here and leaves politics. Hatoyama will become the new Prime Minister in September 2009.
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In June 2010 Hatoyama leaves politics and is succeeded by the Minister of Finance Naoto Kan. On Friday, March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a very strong earthquake followed by a devastating Tsunami. As a result, major problems arise in the nuclear reactors at Fukushima. At the end of March 2011, the radiation in reactor 2 of the Fukushima nuclear power plant is 10 million times higher than normal. Workers who worked on the reactor are withdrawing. Radioactivity measurements by Greenpeace outside the evacuation zone around Fukushima, meanwhile, are alarmingly high. Japan's Prime Minister Nato Kan acknowledges that the situation in the damaged power plant is unpredictable. Yoshihiko Noda was sworn in as Japan's new Prime Minister in August 2011. Japan's ruling Democratic Party (DJP) elected the former finance minister as its new party leader, which meant Noda became Naoto Kan's successor. In the second round of the election, Noda (215 votes) defeated Trade Minister Banri Kaieda (177 votes). At that time, Noda was already the sixth prime minister in five years. In December 2012, Shinzo Abe became Japan's new Prime Minister. In July 2013, Abe's coalition also won the House of Lords elections. In late 2013 and early 2014, Japan quarrels with China over a number of islands and the division of airspace. In February 2015 Japan comes out of the economic recession. In July 2016, Abe's party won the parliamentary elections. In August 2016, Emperor Akihito declares during a video message that he wants to resign, in June 2017 the parliament makes this previously unheard-of decision possible and he will be succeeded in April 2019 by his son Naruhito. In August 2020, Abe will step down for health reasons. He will be succeeded by Yoshihide Suga in September.
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In 2017, Japan had 126,451,398 million inhabitants, making it the tenth country in the world in terms of population. The population density then averaged about 334 inhabitants per km2, making Japan one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Of the four major islands, Hokkaido has the lowest population density (68 inhabitants per km2) and Honshu the highest (421 inhabitants per km2). Shikoku has a population density of 225 inhabitants per km2 and Kyushu 317 inhabitants per km2. The urban conglomerations of Tokyo-Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka-Kobe have an extremely high population density with more than 4000 inhabitants per km2. In 2017, more than 90% of the population lived in urbanized areas. Although Tokyo's population is declining, the city's conurbation is still growing. This trend can also be observed in Osaka. The largest cities are: Tokyo (population 7.9 million; agglomeration: 38 million), Osaka-Kobe 20.2 million, Nagoya 9.4 million, Fukuoka 5.5 million and Sapphoro 2.6 million. The mountain areas are the least populated.
No less than 98.5% of the total population is Japanese. Of the other non-Japanese population groups, the Ainoe and the Koreans are the most important. Very small foreign minorities are temporary workers from Southeast Asia, South America and Western countries.
After World War II, Japan was confronted with a population explosion, but government measures (contraception, possibility of abortion) successfully countered this development in the 1950s; the birth rate has been declining since 1960 (1993: 9.6 ‰). The population increased by an average of 0.4% between 1985 and 1993 (2017: -0.21%), which, given the low birth rate, is mainly due to the low mortality rate, which has been below 10 ‰ since 1951. The mortality rate in 2017 was 9.8 per 1000 inhabitants.
The Japanese have one of the highest life expectancies in the world: that of men averaged 81.9 years in 2017 and that of women 88.8 years.
The population breakdown in 2017 was as follows:
0-14 years: 12.8%
15-64 years: 59.6%
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Some scientists believe that the Ainu are descendants of the first inhabitants of Japan. They were initially nomadic tribes who lived off hunting and fishing in Central and Northern Japan. They were expelled by the peoples who set foot after them and had to retreat to the island of Hokkaido, where their culture has slowly been lost. Few Ainu can understand the Ainu language or have managed to preserve their traditional culture. Only some time ago ancient epics or "yukars" were written down. The Ainu religion is animist, in which it is believed that animals, trees and stones possess a spirit or soul. The bear in particular plays an important role in the Ainu religion and traditions.
Only 22,000 Ainu remain on Hokkaido Island. They are totally different from the rest of the Japanese population in appearance, culture and religion. For a long time, they were considered part of the Caucasian race, but recent research has revealed that certain Caucasian genes are completely missing. Siberia is now also referred to as a place of origin. In any case, they had a fair complexion, light eyes and blond hair. Today's Ainu are usually the result of a mixed marriage between a Japanese and an Ainu, and are therefore hardly distinguishable from real Japanese. It is estimated that there are only about 200 purebred Ainu left.
The Burakumin are "real" Japanese who used to practice professions such as leather workers, butchers and cadaverists. On most religious grounds they were considered unclean beings (Eta) and lived outside the traditional communities in isolated hamlets called "buraku". They were even given separate names so that they can be recognized to this day. Since the restoration of the monarchy in 1871, discrimination against this population group has been prohibited, but discriminatory practices appear to still exist. For example, a burakumin can almost forget a marriage outside his own population group and one does not accept burakumin in business; people are so superstitious that they believe it could negatively affect the entire company.
It is estimated that there are about 3 million people of Burakumin descent living in Japan at present.
A group of about 650,000 Koreans (zai-nichi kankoku-jin) lives in Japan. They are mainly descendants of forced laborers who came to Japan voluntarily or forcibly between 1910 and 1945. This population group is also discriminated against and mixed marriages are almost non-existent. In fact, they are still considered foreigners.
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The official language is Japanese or hyojungo, which belongs to the Altaic language family, which also includes Mongol and Turkic languages. On the other hand, the sound system is closely related to Malay-Polynesian languages.
Japanese is not related to Chinese, but Korean has great similarities in structure.
However, all contacts between Japan and China over the centuries have adopted the Chinese script and many Chinese words. More than half of all Japanese words come from Chinese. The Chinese words and expressions pronounced in Japanese are called Sino-Japanese. It is remarkable that the letter L is missing, while the R is very common; in Chinese it is the other way around.
Many words were also borrowed from other languages between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as Sanskrit, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch.
Examples of words derived from Dutch are:
- Glass - garasoe
- Blik (Dutch)- boeriki
- Matroos (Dutch) - madorosoe
- Doek (Dutch) - zoekkoe
- After the opening of Japan in 1854, many words were taken from English in particular. Some examples are:
- Naifoe - knife
- Demo nsoetoréisjon - demonstration
- Jeeyusu - juice
- Remon - lemon
- Remon jeesuyu - lemon juice
- Chi-zu - cheese
- Gorofu - golf
- Maika - my car
Furthermore, many technical terms have been adopted from the English language. Most Japanese girl names end in "ko", which means little or child.
Typical names are Yukiko (yuki = snow), Hanako (hana = flower) and Sachiko (sachi = happiness). A person's last name is often listed first.
As far as grammar and spelling are concerned, it is striking that there is no grammatical gender, no articles and almost no distinction between singular and plural. The different persons are also indistinguishable for verbs, e.g. ikoe can mean I'm going, he is going or she is going.
Before the introduction of Chinese writing, the Japanese did not know writing, although Chinese writing had been known in Japan for several centuries. It was only after the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century that the Chinese writing system was widely used. The first inscriptions of Japanese appeared on metal and stone.
The Chinese characters, called kanji, each representing a word or concept, were used by the Japanese according to the meaning and the sound. Thus, a Chinese character meaning "calculate" could be used in this sense as well as to represent the syllable ke, the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of the character.
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A syllable script called hiragana probably emerged from the characters used phonetically in the 9th century. The hiragana consist of quickly written, often strongly abbreviated Chinese characters. It is written from top to bottom and is the foundation of grammar. Later, another syllable script emerged, katakana, consisting of portions of phonetically used Chinese characters. Katakana runs horizontally or vertically and is mainly used for writing foreign names.
Both syllables consist of 48 characters, which - with the exception of the a, i, oe, e, o and n - each represent a consonant followed by a vowel: ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, na, ni, now, etc. Modern Japanese script is a "mixed" script of Chinese characters and Japanese syllable characters, so it is partly a script in which the characters represent concepts and partly phonetic. After 1945, measures were taken by the government to significantly limit the number of Chinese characters.
Japanese is so difficult that if one knows about 2000 ideograms, one belongs to the literate. The Hepburn system is usually used for Western transcription of Japanese. The Japanese use western numbers when writing. Furthermore, three colloquial languages are distinguished: East Japanese, which is spoken from Tokyo to Honshu in the north, West Japanese, which follows the west coast to Shikoku, and the Kyushu dialect to the south.
The name Nihon or Nippon was first used in the early 7th century and in 645 it became the official designation for the country. The Sino-Japanese compound Nihon / Nippon (Chinese: Riben; Sino-Korean: Ilbon) means "origin (ben) of the sun (ri)", so: (Land of) the Rising Sun. In the 8th century, the name Riben was often used in China. The European names Japan, Japon, Japão, Giappone, etc. also go back to the Chinese pronunciation (from Nihon): Riben, in the 13th century by Marco Polo as Zipangu (= Ribenguo, "Land of the Solar Origin") in Europe introduced. Until 1945, Japan was also often referred to as Dai-Nippon (Greater Japan).
Many Japanese, especially in rural areas, speak typical dialects called "ben". An example is the famous Kansai dialect, "kansai-ben". These dialects are difficult to understand for Japanese from other parts of the country.
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In Japan, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. The main religion is Shinto, which has about 130 sects and is heavily influenced by Buddhism. For the Japanese population, the differences between the two religions are marginal. Most Japanese therefore profess both Shinto (92%) and Buddhism (76%). In addition, more than 180,000 religious organizations are registered. These include new "religions" that may be based on Buddhism, but also science fiction or even comic strips. In many cases they resemble ordinary companies that sometimes turn over billions of euros. For example, the Buddhist religion / company Soko-Gakkai has 16 million followers and manages, among other things, schools, museums and hospitals. The political party Komeito emerged from this organization.
Religious minorities are made up of about a million Protestants and a small number of Roman Catholics (together about 1.2% of the population) and members of the "new religions", which consist of various hybrid forms of Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and some Christian religions (9.3%).
Infamous in 1995, the Aum Shinriky sect spread sarin gas on the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring 5,000 people.
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Shinto stems from animism. This is evident from the central concept of "kami", which not only denotes the sacred character of a person, but also that of objects or even concepts such as the sun, water, wind, ancestors, a tree or fertility. Kami comes from Japanese, but is written with a Chinese character pronounced "shin". Shinto then actually means "kami-no-michi", the way of the gods. In state Shinto the emperor occupies the top position.
A god such as in Christianity or Islam is unknown in Shintoism. Things are created through the cooperation of different kami. Something like a bible or Quran is also unknown, which means that there is a lot of freedom for the individual interpretation. These interpretations are expressed in rituals usually performed in front of the home altar at home. The purpose of the rituals is the physical and spiritual cleansing through which one is in harmony with nature. The physical cleaning in the bath is also very important for the Japanese.
The rituals are also performed in shrines or "jinjas" with Shinto priests, of which there are about 100,000. There are about 80,000 registered shrines that have an annual festival, "matsuri", which includes processions in which the house of the kami, the "mikoshi" is carried around on the shoulders of young men. Typically Japanese things like court music gagaku, sumo wrestling and Noh theater are strongly linked to Shinto. Death is irrelevant in Shinto and funerals are therefore often performed according to Buddhist rituals.
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Original Buddhism originated in the 5th century BC. in India. The founder was the king's son Siddhartha Gautama, called Amida Butsu by the Japanese. The premise of Buddhism is that life is suffering, where disease, old age and death are inseparable. Attachment to life and desire form the foundation of suffering and the art is to break free from it and thus escape the cycle of suffering. Buddha is therefore not called "the Enlightened One" for nothing.
In the 6th century, Buddhism came to Japan through China and Korea. Due to this long journey, under the influence of Hinduism, Taoism and Confucianism, among others, not much of the original teachings remained. Thus, it was believed in Japan that Buddha could manifest himself in many ways. And that in turn fitted in well with Shinto, which knows sacred objects and concepts through the "kami". A kind of fusion took place between Shinto and Buddhism.
In the 7th century, Buddhism was made the state religion and many temples were established. At Nara, the Horyu-ji was built in 607, the oldest religious building still in use and the oldest wooden building in the world. At that time, Buddhist teachings spread to all aspects of life, but only in court circles.
More than 80 million Japanese indicated that they belonged to a Buddhist sect at the last census. In addition, more than 83 million Japanese considered themselves followers of Shintoism. This shows that the majority of the population considers themselves both Shinto and Buddhist.
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Zen Buddhism is a Buddhist movement and stems from Mahayana Buddhism that flourished in China and in 525 AD. was introduced in Japan and gained a foothold in the 12th century. Zen Buddhism was brought to Japan by two monks, Eisai and Dogen.
Zen Buddhism has had a great influence on the spiritual life of the Japanese over the centuries. It is not a real religion because it does not question whether there is a god or not. By practicing Zen Buddhism, the division between who one thinks one is and who one really is disappears. Physical and mental discipline is obtained through meditation.
The main zen schools at the moment are Rinzai and Soto, both originally from China. Although the differences are difficult to explain, it could be said that the Rizai school has more emphasis on "zazen", sitting meditation, and that the Soto school has more emphasis on "koan", riddles. A famous mystery is what is the sound of only one hand clapping.
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Confucianism is not really a religion, but as a kind of ethics it has had a major influence on the Japanese to this day. Confucianism originated in China about 500 BC and was developed by the teacher Confucius (Chinese: Kong Qiu, 551-479 BC).
Important are a loyalty principles such as child to parent or servant to lord. These principles were well suited to the shoguns and the samurai, who highly respected obedience to authority .
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Japan is a constitutional hereditary monarchy with the emperor as constitutional monarch. However, the emperor has little to no power over the government and only carries out acts enshrined in the May 3 constitution. Divinity was also taken from the emperor in this constitution. The constitution still states that the emperor is the symbol of the state and the unity of the people. The role of the emperor, the "tenno", is in fact purely representative.
The Emperor appoints the Prime Minister, who is, however, appointed by Parliament, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is appointed by the Cabinet. His duties also include promulgating laws and treaties and awarding awards.
Japan was the first country in Asia to have a parliamentary system. The current parliament or Kokkai comprises two Houses: the House of Representatives (Shugi-in) with 511 members, elected for four years, and the House of Lords (Sangi-in) with 252 members, being elected for six years with half the number members is renewed every three years.
Executive power rests with the cabinet (Naikaku), the prime minister of which is appointed by both chambers. The cabinet is answerable to parliament and not to the emperor.
All men and women over the age of 20 are entitled to vote.
The country is divided into eight main regions and 47 prefectures or todofuken. Prefectures are divided into districts or "gun", villages or "mura" and hamlets or "cho". Three prefectures have a separate status, namely the city prefectures of Osaka and Kyoto or "fu", and the capital area or "to", Tokyo. The governors of the prefectures and the mayors of cities and towns are elected by the local population. For the current political situation see chapter history.
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Japanese often describe their society as a "gaku-reki shakai", a society where someone's future is mainly determined with the highest possible education. The negative consequence of this is that a great deal of pressure is placed on the children at a young age. Often everything is done to get to the best rated schools.
Japan has developed a modern education system for this purpose, where a lot of money is invested by the government. More than 8% of the government budget goes to education.
State-run education up to three-year "junior" secondary school is compulsory and free of charge. In addition, many parents send their children to expensive private schools (juku) and institutions, juku's for primary education and yobikos for secondary education, which specialize in tutoring. They also prepare the students for the difficult entrance exams. Classes often have no more than 20 students.
Two-thirds of the children initially go to kindergarten, which is followed by a six-year primary school. There is very fierce competition. Some kindergartens associated with a university even require preschoolers to take entrance exams. This is followed by the three-year "junior" secondary school or chugakko, where general or vocational training can be followed. High school is not concluded with a final exam, but with a certificate. Performance-oriented education does yield results; approx. 94% of the children go on to secondary school and approx. 37% of them continue studying.
Higher education is provided by approximately 400 universities, junior colleges and technical institutes, which are partly public and partly private. The education system is clearly based on the American system. To be admitted to a university, a difficult entrance exam must first be passed. If students succeeded, they were almost assured of their final diploma until recently. At the moment, however, employers are demanding more and more of the students and a Japanese student puts as much time into his studies as a Western student. University studies require four years, but there is also a shorter version of two years, mainly followed by girls.
Most high school students, both boys and girls, wear a uniform. Girls a dark blue uniform and a white blouse or shirt with long sleeves and boys a black uniform with gilded buttons and a cap.
Japanese children have to learn four types of spelling: kanji, hiragana, katakana and romaji. Janji are Chinese characters, hiragana are Japanese characters to connect the kanji ideograms, katakana is used to write foreign words, and romaji is the Latin alphabet.
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Since the Second World War, the Japanese economy has grown spectacularly. The raw materials industry developed until about 1953, followed by the consumer goods industry until about 1965. After 1965, the manufacturing industry experienced unprecedented growth in world history.
The basis for this growth was laid by the Americans, who took a number of measures to help Japan on its way again shortly after the Second World War. The Americans themselves also had an interest in an economically strong Japan, fearing that communism would take hold of Japan.
For example, agriculture was reformed, a lot of technology was imported, trade unions were founded and the education level of the employees was brought to a very high level. The close cooperation between government and business, long working hours, import restrictions and low interest rates also resulted in growth in many industrial areas. In the period from 1965 to 1990, the gross national product grew spectacularly at an average of 4.7% per year, the highest percentage in the world. Until the end of the 1980s Japan also showed a very positive trade balance, with much more exports than imports. This gigantic export income made Japan a lender. The United States in particular is becoming increasingly dependent on these credits and there is a growing trade deficit against Japan.
The United States considered this an unacceptable and dangerous situation and after a meeting of the richest states in the world, the G7, it was decided to devalue the dollar and appreciate the yen. In 1985 the dollar costs 240 yen, in 1987 this has already decreased to 120 yen. For example, American exports should pick up again and those of Japan should be slowed down. However, the yen became more and more expensive, so that prices continue to rise and the trade deficit in the United States has barely decreased. Financial surpluses are piling up in Japan and stock market prices (Nikkei index) are rising spectacularly, from 15,000 in 1985 to nearly 40,000 at the end of 1989. Japanese speculators began to deposit their money in US Treasury bills, making Japan the main lender of the US debt. The Japanese multinationals invested all over the world and established industries in East Asia to export from there their products that had become too expensive in Japan itself due to the rise of the yen. As a result, the East Asian countries experienced unprecedented strong economic progress.
Meanwhile, the contradictions between Japan and the United States are growing, and since 1989 the period of unbridled economic growth has come to an abrupt end. The ties between the Japanese banks and the Japanese industry became somewhat looser and the large companies increasingly finance their investments with the large profits. In order to boost the assets of the companies even more, investments were also made in the property sector, which is largely dominated by the Japanese, causing the prices of the land to skyrocket.
In 1989, the stock market started to decline alarmingly fast, falling to 14,000 points in 1992, one third of two years earlier. Bankruptcies succeed one another in rapid succession, particularly at banks that had lent money to questionable companies. For example, the twelfth bank in Japan, the Hokkaido Bank, had to close its doors and Yamaichi Securities, one of the four major stock exchange companies, went bankrupt. As a result of these developments, many layoffs were made, many speculators went bankrupt and private consumption and investment declined: in short, the economy stagnated and production grew less quickly than the other industrial countries.
To prevent the total collapse, the Japanese government is pumping billions into the Japanese economy. In March 1998, for example, a plan was launched to boost consumption again, costing more than nine billion euros. At that time, however, Japan's debts were as large as its gross domestic product.
Situation of the Japanese economy in the 21st century
Economic growth has been modest since 2000. As of 2008, Japan has been in recession three times. The 2011 Tsunami also caused the economy to contract. There is a heated debate in Japan about whether or not to close nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster. In 2017, Japan is the fourth largest economy in the world after the United States, China and India. The greatest challenge is curbing the national debt. Some figures on the state of the economy in 2017:
Economic growth is 1.7%. Its GDP per capita is $ 42,900. Unemployment is 2.9%. The national debt is 237% of the Gross National Product. Inflation is 0.5%.
Agriculture, livestock, fishing and forestry
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The importance of these primary sectors declined sharply after the Second World War and has fluctuated around 1-1.5% of GDP for a number of years. (1.1% in 2017) Only 3% of the labor force (2017) is employed in these sectors and that number is steadily decreasing. As a result, the self-sufficiency rate in Japan is only 40%, making Japan one of the lowest of the industrialized countries.
Mountainous Japan has little agricultural land available (11% of the area). The main crop is rice, the traditional folk food, for which 50% of the agricultural area is used and is the only agricultural product in which the country can amply provide itself. One-third of the remaining 50% of agricultural land is used as pasture and two-thirds are grown fruit and vegetables such as potatoes, sugar beets, citrus fruits and sugar cane.
Grain and other agricultural raw materials are mainly imported; only 7% is grown in Japan itself, except for silk, flax and to a lesser extent tobacco. The size of the Japanese agricultural companies is very small: an average of approximately 1.2 ha.
Despite a lack of good grazing land and the small farm size, milk is the most important agricultural product today.
Livestock farming, on the other hand, is shrinking, especially pig farming. The number of cattle and dairy farms is also falling slightly. Most of the meat is currently being imported, especially from Australia and the United States.
Japan is one of the most important fishing countries in the world with an annual catch of approximately 6-7 million tons. Before 1940, the catch amounted to between half and two thirds of the total world catch. However, its size has been declining since 1990 as a result of international conflicts over fishing rights and pollution of Japanese coastal waters. The sector has approximately 280,000 professional fishermen, three quarters of whom work for small-scale companies. In addition to fishing, the large companies are mainly engaged in trade, transport and fish processing.
In addition to fish for human consumption, the sea also supplies industrial raw materials, such as seaweed. The inedible fish is processed into fish meal. Japan has a monopoly position in pearl fishing; 95% of the catch is exported. The fishing industry is the basis for an extensive industry and export of canned food. Fish consumption is among the highest in the world: 45% of the animal protein consumption in Japan consists of fish. Despite an international ban on whaling since 1986, Japan simply continues its activities in this field under the guise of scientific research.
The forests cover 67% of the total area, of which approximately 41% by means of planting. However, a lot of wood has to be imported because Japan only provides 20% of the domestic demand. Japan's high demand for tropical hardwood is disastrous for the rainforest. Several countries in Southeast Asia and the United States are the main suppliers.
Energy supply and mining
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For its energy sources, Japan is dependent on imports for about 82% due to a lack of its own sources. 50-55% of the energy requirement is covered by the import of petroleum from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Since the two oil crises in the seventies of the 20th century, Japan has been trying to reduce dependence on foreign countries and the possibilities for using alternative energy sources are being studied, in particular solar energy, geothermal power, gasification, coal liquefaction and nuclear power.
The importance of nuclear energy is growing rapidly. After the United States, Japan spends the most money on developing nuclear energy. There is currently a heated discussion about nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster.
Japan is one of the largest consumers of minerals in the world because it has no natural resources of its own. Japan therefore has to import most of its need for minerals. Japan only has sufficient quantities of limestone for the cement industry, silver, sulfur and pyrite for the production of sulfuric acids. The share of mining in GDP is only a quarter of a percent. Japan is the world's largest importer of coal.
Industry and construction sector
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After the Second World War, Japan initially conquered a place on the world market in the field of shipbuilding and the synthetic fiber industry. Subsequently, light industry also conquered a prominent place on the world market. The production grew spectacularly as a result of, among other things, the good cooperation between the government and the private sector, the strong industrial organization and the application of modern technologies. There are a number of methods in the acquisition of technology in Japan: the sectors that are mainly based on foreign technologies such as petrochemicals, synthetic fibers and electronics; the sectors that were already present in Japan before the Second World War and in which much Japanese know-how was invested, but which were reinforced with foreign know-how in the 1950s and 1960s, such as shipbuilding, steel and automotive industry and the manufacture of optical instruments; and the sectors in which foreign know-how has found its own Japanese application, such as in the electronics and computer industry and in systems technology.
Japan is the most productive country in the world after the United States. Within the Japanese economy, industry contributed around 30% to GDP in 2017. This share is also gradually decreasing. The industry, including the major automotive industry, employs 26% of the workforce (2017). Other important industries are machinery, iron and steel, chemical and textile industries.
The second oil crisis in 1979 saw a shift from heavy industry to technologically advanced industry. Since the mid-1980s, many companies have moved their production abroad. This mainly concerns manufacturers of cars and electronics, products often intended for those markets. In the 1990s, industrial production fell significantly as a result of the great economic crisis. One of the major problems in the industry is overcapacity, which leaves companies with large stocks.
The construction industry is important to Japan both politically and economically. However, this sector has also been hit hard. Due to the decline in the value of real estate and the trend to continue production abroad, resulting in fewer factories being built. Many construction companies can barely keep their heads above water.
Trade and the Internet
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Large trade surpluses characterize Japan's foreign trade. The United States and the European Union are strongly urging for improved market access for their products and services. In recent years, the Japanese government has therefore begun to deregulate the market and make it more accessible to foreign competition. The trade surplus has been declining in recent years.
The main trading partner for Japan is China. In 2017, 19% of exports went to China, while China supplied 24.5% of imports. After China, the United States is Japan's second largest trading partner. Other important importers are South Korea, Hong Kong, the Middle East and Taiwan. Australia, Taiwan and South Korea are the main exporters.
Japan is the leader in the e-business market in Asia. The number of internet users is enormous.
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Sea transport has always been very important because of Japan's location and its dependence on imports of most natural resources.
The main ports are Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka, Moji and the coal ports of Otaru and Muroran. Competition with other ports in the region is fierce and Japan is in danger of losing the competitive battle. Larger ports are those of Hong Kong, Singapore and Kaoshiung in Taiwan.
The Japanese National Railways were reorganized in 1987 into seven private companies: the Japanese Railways (JR) Group consisting of six passenger transport companies and a freight transport company. Japan has a number of super-fast passenger trains. The Tokaido Express covers the Tokyo-Osaka (515 km) route in just over three hours. The Sanyo Express takes less than seven hours to cover the Osaka-Hakata distance (1070 km).
The Seikan Tunnel (the longest in the world at nearly 54 km) has connected the main islands of Honshu and Hokkaido since 1988 and is part of the Tokyo-Sapporo railway link.
In 2013, the road network comprised approximately 1,500 million km, of which 75,000 km are national roads (of which almost 90% are paved). Car ownership in Japan is high, in 2013 95% of the population owned a car. More than 90% of freight transport was by road in 2013.
International airlines are Japan Airlines (JAL), All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Air Systems (JAS). The main airports are Tokyo (Narita), Osaka and Nagoya, and the new Kansai International International Airport in Osaka Bay, the world's first offshore airport. Japan also has a large number of regional airports for domestic flights.
Air transport for the transportation of goods is not very popular. For years, only 1-2% of freight has been transported by air.
Holidays and Sightseeing
Japan has a strong tourism industry. The Japanese's wanderlust is still growing, both domestically and abroad. The number of foreign tourists has been increasing in recent years.
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Tokyo is Japan's most famous city, filled with modern skyscrapers and continuously blinking neon lights. The city is one of the most important economic centers in the world. Tokyo has fast bullet trains, a large metro network and a really chaotic rush hour. But you will also find historic temples and the Imperial Palace. Tokyo has everything you can expect in a leading Japanese city. Tokyo is the official seat of politics and of the Japanese government. There are many shopping, entertainment and business districts throughout the city. Ginza is one of the most famous. Shinjuku is a major entertainment area. A very famous historical landmark in the heart of Tokyo is the Imperial Palace. Inhabited by the Emperor of Japan, the palace can be accessed through a series of canals. Visitors can access the lush park and gardens to the east. The walls of the original 1888 building were rebuilt in the 1960s. A prime example of Shinto architecture, the serene Meiji Shrine is set in 175 acres of gardens in Yoyogi. The shrine is dedicated to the memory of the Meiji Emperor and Empress. The visitors come to this 1920 building to write prayer cards and ask for help from the deified rulers.
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Kyoto means capital and is located in the central part of the island of Honshu in Japan. In ancient times it was the imperial capital of Japan, today it is the capital of Kyoto prefecture and most of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area. According to the 2011 census there are 1,473,746 inhabitants. It is the site of the former Imperial Palace and a strategic center for business, industry, trade and transport. Kyoto is a large cultural center with numerous special historical monuments, many of them on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are beautiful shrines, temples and cultural facilities. The city has a long tradition of major festivals and cultural events.
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Osaka is located on Honshu, Japan's main island, in the Kansai region. It is the capital of Osaka prefecture and also the main part of the Keihanshin Metropolis. There are beautiful old temples, shrines and other historical sites in Osaka. You can admire the Shrine of Sanko as well as the Shitenno-ji - The oldest Buddhist temple in Japan from the year 593. The Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of the oldest Shinto shrines built in 211 AD.
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Kamachi, N. / Culture and customs of Japan
Scott, D. / Japan
Shelley, R. / Japan
Somerwil, J. / Japan
Stefoff, R. / Japan
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